Obituary: Prof. Judah L. Schwartz my Master thesis advisor left us due to #COVID19

Judah, Yehuda for me, was (and is) a seminal pillar in my life.

I first met him on my first day at Harvard as a young Israeli master student, assigned to some group to meet some mentor.

I remember vividly how this some mentor (from MIT and Harvard) welcomed me in perfect Hebrew, which — of course — made the entire event both eventless and eventful.

This was the beginning of 30+ years of mentorship and friendship. Judah was the kind of person you go to Harvard for: kind, smart, knowledgeable, pushy, creates opportunities, and a paragon mentor who squeezes the potential out of you, and then more.

He was my master adviser, I took his courses, and I was a teaching fellow for him; we did joint research on math education new kind of testing, and we were both members of the Technology in Education (TiE) program committee which I coordinated. Even more, he invited me to collaborate on the good old “Broken Calculator” software for the Mac.

From him, I learned to mix business with academia, ask the right questions, stand my ground, and get the big picture from the details. Mostly, I learned the value of being first to the market — for example, he was the only one in the faculty whose user name was his first name: “JUDAH” as opposed to the rest of us who were obliged to use their last name (since his grant got the school the entire computer :-).

He literally shaped my thinking for life with words. I know how to “guestimate” solutions (guess and estimate), and how to “thumberise” (summarize a book while flipping through it with my thumb).
In later years, he became a serial retiree — moving from MIT to Harvard, to Tufts and back to Harvard. I admired his zeal and creativity and pray and plan to be as active as he was.

I will always have a virtual Judah in my mind’s eye, to help me in an interesting “times.” Still, I already miss the original Judah in my eye’s view.

My only consolation is that Judah is now working with God to better the world.

2 thoughts on “Obituary: Prof. Judah L. Schwartz my Master thesis advisor left us due to #COVID19

  1. Re: your accurate comment about his grant, in one of those early days at GSE, I was closing down the computer lab at a time when he still wanted to do additional work, and, as he acquiesced to leaving, he muttered “It’s my VAX.”
    John (with whom I’m still in touch) explained the grant background to me after I related that tale.

  2. Yesha, I remember you well from Judah’s HGSE class in the ’89-’90 academic year. Judah was unique, a polymath who used his talents for enlightenment, a scientist whose vision encompassed the best of human potential. His was the best class in any field that I ever experienced. By assigning future science teachers the task of explaining such concepts as the smallest amount of water required to float a boat, or how to convince someone that a metal chair leg and the carpet it sits on are both the same temperature, despite how they feel when touched – this is where science becomes interesting, and how science should be taught rather than as the collection of facts, or “plug ‘n chug” problem sets. The world is diminished by his parting.

Leave a Reply